Italy and Sicily under Roman rule
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p249 The first Punic war, which was brought on by the appeal of the Mamertines to Rome, and lasted twenty-two years, was the turning-point in Roman history and the beginning of Rome's empire. The first Punic war means the conquest of Sicily, and since Rome held Messina and was in alliance with Syracuse, the struggle took place chiefly in the western and southern part of the island. It is no easy matter to sketch briefly a contest in which the winner lost seven hundred ships and an untold number of men; it is impossible to condense into a few pages anything more than the shortest possible account of the principal battles fought, and this p250 I shall endeavour to do with as much clearness as the difficult nature of the subject admits, henceforth calling places by their Latin names or by their modern ones.
The war opened slowly. For more than two hundred years Rome and Carthage had maintained towards one another an attitude of distrust without hostility, and when the two great powers were at last in open opposition for the possession of Sicily, they fenced and manoeuvred for some time, as if testing their relative strength. Rome took Messina at the start, and having got the valuable alliance of Hiero, proceeded to subjugate the centre of Sicily, west of the little Syracusan kingdom. Carthage held Agrigentum as an outpost on the southern coast, Panormus was the centre of her strength, and the strong position she maintained at Lilybaeum was her base of supplies from Africa. In the smaller cities inland which were under her control there were few Carthaginians.
On the road at Girgenti,
Carthage might now have proposed a peace which the Romans would have accepted, had she not been the greatest sea power of the age. She preferred to continue the struggle, and Rome understood at once that without a fleet it would be impossible to get possession of western Sicily and hold it. During the year 261 B.C., the Romans accordingly equipped a number of ships, no less than a hundred and twenty, and put to sea. The first aim of the expedition was to seize Lipari, in order to have a naval station in the neighbourhood of Panormus. The squadron of seventeen Roman vessels engaged in this undertaking surrendered to the Carthaginian fleet without striking a blow, but soon afterwards an engagement took place on the Sicilian coast in which Carthage lost a larger number. From first to last, and in spite of her great inferiority in shipbuilding and seamanship, Rome only lost one naval battle during the whole war, at Drepanum. After the first engagement, the Romans were quick to see that their enemies were superior in skill and rapidity, and they retorted by fitting all their own vessels with strong grappling irons, an invention which turned every naval engagement into a hand-to‑hand fight, in which the Romans generally were sure of success. The first time these were used was in the same year, at Milazzo, under Caius Duilius, who took or destroyed fifty Carthaginian vessels, of p253 which the beaks were taken to Rome and set up as a trophy on the famous 'columna rostrata' in the Forum; and it was decreed that ever afterwards, when Duilius went home from any feast by night, he should be accompanied by torch-bearers and musicians.
The Romans fought with varying fortune on the island, while their fleet attacked Sardinia; and there one of the many Carthaginian generals who bore the name of Hannibal met them and was defeated, and suffered for his defeat on the cross. But in Sicily the Carthaginians strengthened themselves by fortifying the 'sickle' of Drepanum, and Trapani, and bringing down thither a number of the inhabitants of Mount Eryx; and Drepanum and Lilybaeum each defended the other, so that the difficulty of seizing either was very great. These things occupied two years. Then at last the Romans made their first attack upon Panormus, but could not take it, and their army marched up inland and besieged a strong place called Mytistratum, on one side of which was an ascent so steep that it was almost a cliff, and seemed to need no defence. But when the siege did not advance, a devoted man, M. Calpurnius Flamma, climbed the rugged approach with four hundred men, all sworn to die, in order that while they drew the defenders to that side, the Romans might take the place by the other; and so it happened, and they all died like men, and the Romans won the town.
p254 At this time the only real base of operations upon which the Romans could rely was Agrigentum, and the necessity impressed itself more and more upon them of getting possession of the great seaports in the west, an object which could only be attained by means of a powerful fleet. This they did not as yet possess, though they obtained a naval advantage in 257 B.C., when they sank or captured eighteen Carthaginian ships off Lipari. They had, however, an ample number of transports, and since the Carthaginians continually made forays upon the Italian coast, it seemed practicable to retaliate by sending an army to Africa. To this end great preparations were made, and in the year 256 B.C., three hundred and thirty Roman ships, many of which must have been very lately built, set sail for Africa with a hundred and forty thousand men. This great expedition was met by an even larger Carthaginian force near the headland of Ecnomus, now Licata, on the south coast of Sicily. As they came in sight of each other, the two fleets formed in line of battle: the Carthaginians divided their vessels into three squadrons, which appear to have moved forward simultaneously; the Romans advanced in an entirely different order, which was then quite new in naval tactics, the attack being led by the two Roman admirals, whose squadrons followed them in more and more extended order, so that the admirals' ships united to form the point of a wedge, behind which another squadron brought up the transports, while a fourth protected p255 the rear. The plan of the Carthaginians was to let their centre give way before the Roman wedge, which was then to be caught and destroyed by the Carthaginian wings. The result was disastrous to the Carthaginian fleet; the Roman centre was completely victorious at the first onslaught, and when attacked by the Carthaginian wings, the latter were crushed by the Romans's second squadron. Carthage lost in this engagement ninety-four ships, and made overtures for peace, which were refused, however, and the Romans sailed on unhindered to Africa.
This was the celebrated expedition under Regulus, which, after many signal successes, was destined to total defeat in the year 255 B.C. The whole Roman force, excepting two thousand men, was destroyed, and when Rome sent another fleet to rescue the remnant, it also perished in a storm upon the Sicilian coast, between Camarina and Pachynus. Taking quick advantage of her enemy's disaster, Carthage now recaptured Agrigentum and several other points of minor importance. Defeat and disaster, instead of disheartening the Romans, roused them to enormous efforts, and in the incredibly short space of three months two hundred and twenty new ships were built and sent to sea.
In 254 B.C. the Romans took Drepanum, but failed to hold it long, and at once turned their whole strength against Panormus, which they blockaded by land and sea. At that time the harbour occupied a part of the p256 present city, the sea running much further inland than it now does, so that the neck connecting the height now called Monte Pellegrino with the land was far narrower than at present. While the Romans beleaguered the city, the Carthaginian general held the promontory and the isthmus, and was supported by his fleet, which was able to approach the neck from the other side. The Romans made no serious effort to dislodge him but turned their whole attention to the city, which they before long starved to surrender. They now controlled the three best harbours of the island, for Panormus and Messina were theirs, while their alliance with Hiero placed Syracuse at their disposal. Nevertheless, Carthage still held Monte Pellegrino with a small force, and apparently unmolested. In 253 B.C., after a second attempt upon Africa, the Romans lost another large fleet in a storm. After this, they for a time made no further effort to establish their superiority by sea, but in the following year, with only sixty transports, which could not be classed as war-ships, they seized and held the long-coveted island of Lipari.
The turning-point of the first Punic war came in the following year, when the Romans defeated the whole Carthaginian force in a great battle before Panormus. The Carthaginians on Monte Pellegrino had received large reënforcements from Africa, and at last attempted to recapture the city. The Romans awaited their approach under the walls and only p257 sent out a small detachment to harass the enemy's flank. When the Carthaginian elephants were at close quarters, the Romans adopted their usual tactics, maddening the beasts with darts and arrows until the whole line was thrown into confusion. The main body of the Roman army, which had been standing under arms, then charged, and the victory was immediate and complete. The elephants adorned the triumph of Metellus in Rome, and the Romans were now masters of the greater part of Sicily. The Carthaginians sued for peace, and hoping to obtain it on good terms sent Regulus, whom they had held four years a prisoner, to intercede for them in the Senate. They had misjudged the man. Instead of following their instructions, and fully aware of the fate that awaited him, he urged the Romans to grant no peace at any price. He spoke, he took leave of his family and of his friends, and he calmly returned to die a death of unimagined torture.
It now seemed certain that if Lilybaeum could be taken, the war would be at an end, and in the following year, 250 B.C., a powerful fleet was sent out for that purpose. The Romans proceeded to a regular siege, which was destined to be long and tedious. By the most skilful seamanship, and thorough knowledge of wind and water, a Carthaginian leader entered the harbour of Lilybaeum with fifty war-ships, in the face of the Roman fleet of two hundred sail, and having p258 supplied the city with provisions, sailed out again with the same success, and anchored further north in Drepanum, thus strengthening the already numerous fleet that occupied that port. Immediately afterwards, a certain Carthaginian seaman, surnamed the Rhodian, ran the blockade again and again with a single vessel, establishing a regular communication between Carthage and the beleaguered city. The superiority of the Carthaginian vessels was so great that before long the blockade became utterly derisory, and the Romans attempted to close the entrance of the harbour by a dam. Before it was half finished a first-rate Carthaginian ship ran aground upon the work. The Romans promptly captured it, and turning their prize to advantage soon caught the Rhodian blockade runner.
But they were not destined to immediate success, for before long a southwesterly gale, which must have blown with the force of a hurricane, wrecked their siege engines, which were promptly fire by the Lilybaeians. The Romans now attempted to starve the city to submission, being themselves supplied with provisions by Hiero. In 249 B.C., a Roman army safely reached Lilybaeum by land from the interior, and the general who now took command made an attempt upon Drepanum by sea; it ended in the only real defeat which the Romans suffered in any naval engagement during the war. The disaster was due to p259 the Roman ships being so crowded together that they could not use their grappling irons. In this year misfortune pursued the Romans, and they lost another large fleet during a gale on the south coast, while the Carthaginian squadron that was observing them succeeded in running under the lee to the eastward. The attempt upon Drepanum had failed, and the Roman losses were enormous, yet Eryx was taken and held, and the position is a commanding one. Once more the Romans retired temporarily from the sea, with the result that the enemy gained new courage to face them on land. At this time appears on the Carthaginian side a man of genius, Hamilcar, surnamed Barca, the 'lightning.' He once more seized Monte Pellegrino, which the Carthaginians had abandoned, and retrieving the ill-fortune of his predecessors he kept the Romans at bay during the greater part of six years. It was not until 243 B.C. that Rome called upon her citizens to build ships at their private expense, promising them full indemnity in case of ultimate success. The rich citizens responded magnificently to the call made upon them, and in 242 B.C. two hundred vessels, built on the model of the captured blockade runners, suddenly appeared before Lilybaeum, to the great surprise of the enemy. In greatest haste, Carthage sent forth the last fleet she was able to raise, for her resources had been severely taxed, and she appears at that time to have been p260 grappling with difficulties at home. The engagement which followed, and which was fought about the islands off Drepanum, resulted in the most overwhelming defeat. Fifty Carthaginian ships were sunk, seventy were captured with all hands on board, and the victors sailed into the harbour of Lilybaeum with no less than ten thousand prisoners.
The first Punic war was over, and the Romans remained in undisputed possession of Sicily, with the exception of the small kingdom they left to Hiero, their firm ally. Carthage was obliged, by the terms of the peace, to pay the sum of three thousand two hundred talents, equivalent to nearly eight hundred thousand pounds sterling, in the space of ten years; and besides Sicily, all the islands between Sicily and Italy were to be abandoned to the Romans. The latter interpreted the clause as including Sardinia, and took possession of it within a few years.
Papyrus in the river Anapus
If Syracuse were not one of the most beautiful places in the world, that one sight should be enough to take many a scholar there to‑day. The stream is deep and swift, swift and quite silent, running through the low land where so many thousands of brave men have perished. Clear as crystal it is, and ever cool, so that it is good to drink of it even in the dog days; and the papyrus grows as thick beside it as canes in the southern brake, •nine and ten feet high, gracefully straight, but often drooping till the tufts of silky green wet their tiny gold-green blossoms in the gliding water; green from root to crown, the delicate stem, as thick as a man's p262 wrist at the ground, tapers finely to the plume that is a cloud of tangled curves. The stream is often barely ten feet wide, and nowhere more than twenty till it widens to a circle in the spring of Kyane, •five fathoms deep, and clear as glass, the source of the lower branch. The shade is deep and soft, and from p263 the bottom of the thick river grass reflects a darker green through the smooth surface. Shadowy dragon-flies, black, and amaranth, and light sky blue, dart in and out among the stems, or hover over the velvet-like weed that floats in the shade under the bank. It is a place where one feels that river gods and nymphs are alive forever in the truth of poetry, which is itself that fourth dimension in our understanding wherein all is possible, and all that is possible is beautiful, and all that has beauty is true.
On the desolate southeast coast of Malta, looking toward the molten enamel of the southern sea, white-hot under the pitiless sun, out of sight of humanity, there are certain ruins of Phoenician temples, the places of worship of Ashtaroth, or of Moloch, or of Baal. Huge slabs of rock, split off from the mountain, and neither carved nor plainly hewn, are thrust upright into the stony soil, side by side, for walls, in strange curves and rough half circles, like Druid stones, with great blocks set here and there upon uncouth pedestals, and masses of rock that figure nameless powers of nature; and there are small chambers, within which two persons can hardly stand, each having something like an altar, and each one closed by a door of stone to make a secret place. Under the blazing sky they are furnaces within furnaces, desolations within desolations, that were long ago abominable with the blood of human victims; and they reeked with the burning p264 of human flesh that sent up yellow smoke in the cloudless glare of noon, and the stones echoed a wild litany of shrieks, while the dark-faced priests looked gravely on and gathered back their white robes from the flames and brushed the sparks from their black beards. There are also a few places like these in Sicily, lonely and full of a horror, as though they were cursed.
That is what the Phoenicians left behind them in the lands that were theirs, the Phoenician Carthaginians, whose brazen god, set up in Carthage, grasped little children in his hot brass hands by a hidden machinery concealed within, and dropped them one by one into the raging fire; the god to whom believers sacrificed their first-born, the god to whom the boy Hannibal swore that he would hate the Romans while he lived.
One who leaves those hideous ruins behind him, and comes to Syracuse, may well feel that he has returned to a human world where he can breathe again, where he can linger on the steps of the vast theatre and almost hear the lovely strains of the Alcestis, the voice of Admetus, and the Chorus, and the cheerful laugh of Hercules, coming up from the wide stage; where he may muse away thoughtful hours in the enchanted gardens of the Latomie, recalling indeed how the unhappy Athenians languished and died there in fearful captivity, but remembering how many were set free because the magic of Greek verse p265 was familiar to their lips, and not forgetting the provocation, when friend and foe were of the same race, and the grasping came against the peaceful; where he may float upon the silent stream in the papyrus shade, and read in a vision the verse and the philosophy, p266 the history and the wisdom, all written down age after age on the wafer-thin slips of fibre so skilfully fastened each to each in pages and scrolls, and yet all but a small part of what Greece left the world.
Amphitheatre at Syracuse
Being deprived of her island colonies and of her supremacy in the Mediterranean, Carthage turned in a new direction in order to retrieve her fortunes and replace her loss. Hamilcar Barca had not lost the confidence of his fellow-citizens; he had fought a brave fight and had withstood the growing force of Rome as long as it had been humanly possible. His country acknowledged his valour and received him with mourning, but not without honour. As soon as the injuries she had suffered during a war of twenty-two years' duration could be in part repaired, she intrusted him with a fleet and an army p267 wherewith to make new conquests. Hamilcar set forth and conquered the Spanish seacoast, colonizing as he went, and fighting his way on from the Greek settlements in the Gulf of Lyons down the coast and westward towards the Pillars of Hercules, the forerunner by a thousand years of the great Semitic invasion.
Years passed, and still he fought, and still he won new lands, till Carthage had a broad possession in Europe, whence it was possible, though not easy, to invade Italy from the north. Dying at last, Hamilcar left in his son a greater general and a more daring spirit than himself. For generations the great house of the Barcides had given leaders to the Carthaginian army; some had died the death of soldiers in the field, some had come home in glory and laden with spoil, and more than one had returned to expiate defeat upon the cross. Neither rank nor wealth nor a descent from heroes could protect the unfortunate from the wrath of a people whose altars ran with human blood, and who could throw their first-born to the flames as burnt sacrifices to Moloch. In Hannibal were concentrated at once the gifts of his own soldierly race and the spirit of the Carthaginian people. It was as if, for the final struggle now at hand, the whole nation had distilled its genius and its energies to their essence in one man. From the day when he set forth, at the age p268 of twenty-six years, till the final destruction of his army at Zama, Hannibal was the soul and life of his country; to his enemies his name meant all that Carthage was; to his countrymen it stood for all they hoped and looked to win in future years.
Hiero was in extreme old age when the war broke out again. We may fairly suppose with Holm that his diplomatic spirit was not altogether displeased by the news. Before all things he was a Syracusan and a patriot, and while he loved peace and used it for his country's good, as few have done, he must have looked with apprehension upon the vast predominance of Rome. On the other hand, his son Gelon, while devotedly attached to his father, differed with him altogether in his views of the situation, and would gladly have gone over to the Carthaginian side. But Hiero, though he probably wished that Rome might be held in check by an adversary of nearly equal strength, lest Syracuse should lose its independence altogether, was wise enough to see that Rome meant civilization, of a kind, whereas Carthage carried with her everywhere a strange mixture of commercial methods which were altogether selfish and injurious to others, and of religious institutions which were as terrible as they were barbarous. The king's old age must have been embittered by his foreknowledge of what was sure to happen after his death, and he appears to have done all in his power p269 to give stability to the position he had given his kingdom. He could not be wholly neutral, any more than he could be at heart wholly pleased by Rome's success.
In the year 219 B.C. Hannibal set forth. The little Greek colony of Saguntum, now Murviedro, on the Spanish coast, had allied itself with the Romans, and Hannibal's first aggressive act was to take it by siege, which was of course a violation of the peace of 242 B.C. Rome at once sent an embassy to Carthage to demand satisfaction; the spokesman gathered his cloak in his hands like a sack and held it up to the assembled council, saying, that he brought peace or war, as those who heard him might choose. They answered that the choice should be his, not theirs. He shook out the folds of his cloak before him and bade them take war, since they would have him choose, — war only, war at once, and war to the death.
It is not within the province of the story of the south to tell how Hannibal crossed the Pyrenees and marched along the southern coast of France, nor how he effected the passage of the Rhone, and lost more than half his army before he reached the Italian side of the Alps. Once in Italy, the natives of the north joined him without hesitation, and he drove the Romans southwards step by step, defeating them again and again from the river Ticinus down to southern Cannae. While he made his famous p270 triumphal progress overland, the Romans still held Sicily and the islands, and it is amazing that while suffering such defeats on the one hand they should have been able to drive a Carthaginian fleet from the Sicilian shore on the other. But Hiero had received notice that the attempt was to be made, and every headland of the west was guarded, while the small Roman fleet that was in Lilybaeum was provisioned for ten days and held in readiness to sail at any moment. On a fair night the Carthaginian ships stood in towards the shore, but their white sails betrayed them; from cape to cape the beacon signals shot up their flames, and in an hour the Roman fleet was under way. When day broke the battle began, and the Carthaginians were driven to flight, after losing seven of their vessels. Before the news of the victory had travelled far, a Roman consul arrived in Messina on his way to the rescue and was met by old King Hiero, with all his ships of war and with every expression of gladness and promise of help. He was anxious to impress upon the Romans from the first that he meant to stand by them as he had done long ago. But when it was known that Lilybaeum was already safe, the consul sailed across southward and fell upon Malta, where he captured a Carthaginian force of two thousand men, whom he immediately sold as slaves in Sicily. It had been the first intention of Rome that he should attack Carthage from p271 Lilybaeum; but Hannibal had by this time crossed the Alps, and the consul was ordered to sail round the east coast of Italy as far as Ariminum, now Rimini, to land there and march against Hannibal's troops. Even in the next year, 217 B.C., when Rome was losing the disastrous battle of Thrasimene and was forced to elect a dictator, a hundred and twenty ships were sent to harry the African coast. Hiero did more to help the Romans in the second Punic war than is commonly remembered. In the same year he sent five hundred Cretans and a thousand light-armed infantry, and in 216 B.C. a Syracusan fleet arrived at Ostia with ambassadors, and seventy-five thousand bushels of wheat, fifty thousand of barley, a thousand slingers and archers, and a golden statue of Victory weighing three hundred and twenty pounds. But the present was not of good augury, for on the second day of August, in the same year, the Roman general Varro lost seventy thousand men in the almost incredible defeat at Cannae, far to southward in Apulia, where the swift and shallow river Aufidus, the Ofanto of our times, sweeps through the Pezza di Sangue, which is the 'field of blood' to this day, and where the rivulet still flows which Hannibal crossed on a causeway of corpses.
Then a Carthaginian fleet sailed up and ravaged the coast of Hiero's dominion, and he appealed for help in vain, for the Carthaginian ships were also threatening p272 Lilybaeum in the west; but Rome could do nothing, neither for him nor for her own praetor in Sicily, and at the last it was Hiero, the ever willing, who sent help instead of receiving it. But his days were numbered. His son Gelon died very suddenly, and he himself not long afterwards, in the year 215 B.C., a very old man, deeply mourned by his people.
While Rome was slowly gathering strength after her cruel loss, and while Hannibal idled away golden hours in the soft Capuan plain, Hiero's grandson, Hieronymus, a spoiled boy of fifteen years, began to reign at Syracuse, at first under the guidance of fifteen guardians whom Hiero had appointed in his will, but soon alone, through the intrigues of court favourites who hoped to attain their ends by declaring him of age. Soon the boy began to array himself in purple and to wear a crown, and went about with a life-guard in the true tyrant fashion, and his boyish displeasure turned suddenly to cruelty at the least provocation. So the courtiers conspired to kill him, but he was warned of his danger, and tortured one of the courtiers to betray the rest; who, being very strong and very cunning, bore much before he would speak, and then accused the only loyal man in the palace, who was not in the conspiracy and was promptly put to death, for he was staunch to the Romans, and the king hated him.
This being done, Hieronymus turned to the Carthaginians and offered his alliance, promising that he would p273 help them to conquer Italy, if they would promise him all Sicily in return for his help; and Carthage agreed to this, as she would have agreed to any terms, without the least intention of carrying them out. So Hieronymus began to make war upon the Roman possessions in Sicily, not dreaming that the real conspirators were his advisors, who had sworn to make Sicily once more a republic; and the revolution broke out at Leontini. There, as the king rode through a narrow street towards the market-place, he was treacherously separated from his life-guards by one of themselves, and the conspirators fell upon him and slew him. But when they had done the deed, some proclaimed the republic and others took the crown and the blood-stained mantle from the boy-king's dead body, and galloped to Syracuse, and rode through the quarter of Tyche and through Achradina, showing these things to the people, who rejoiced greatly. And the people went up to the temple of the Olympieum and armed themselves with all the splendid weapons, both Gallic and Illyrian, which the Romans had sent as presents to King Hiero, praying the Olympian Zeus to bless their swords, that they might fight for their freedom, their country, and their gods. On that same day they got possession of a part of the island of Ortygia, and on the next morning they summoned the governor, who was the young king's uncle by marriage, to surrender and acknowledge the republic, and he agreed.
p274 On the day after that, he solemnly gave up to the people the keys of the palace and of the treasure house, and the people chose generals as of old, most of whom had been among the conspirators; but the governor himself received as many votes as any of the rest. He therefore planned to make himself master, but was betrayed, and the generals murdered him without delay. Then suddenly the city was in confusion, for he had been popular because he had spoken well and had given up the keys at once; and they called upon the man who betrayed him to tell all he knew. But this fellow accused Harmonia, the sister of the dead king, and another false witness appeared and accused all the women of the royal house; and the people rose tumultuously to slay them. Two were murdered at once, but the third, who was Heraclea, fled with several young daughters into the little temple of the palace; and first she begged for her life, but seeing that she was to die, she piteously pled for her daughters. They slew her by the altar, but the maidens were swift of foot and ran from the murders for their lives, and wounded they still fled on, through the courts of the palace, shrieking, till at last the people hunted them to corners, one after the other, as dogs hunt weak and wounded animals, and they died.
After this, the people chose new generals, and the mercenary soldiers who were there forced them to choose two Carthaginian officers; yet suddenly the old attachment to Rome made itself felt, and messages p275 were sent to the Roman general in Sicily, to undo what Hieronymus had done and ask a renewal of the alliance. But Rome had already seen that although Hannibal could not conquer alone, he might be victorious with the help of Syracuse; and while the people hesitated and quarrelled among themselves, a Roman fleet of a hundred sail was already in sight off Megara, which is Agosta, under one of Rome's greatest generals, Marcus Claudius Marcellus. He was of that great Claudian house that gave Rome more soldiers of genius than any other, and from which sprang all the Claudian Caesars; he had fought in the first Punic war, and in Gaul he had slain with his own hand Vindomar the king, and had brought home the spoils to the temple of Jupiter Feretrius, a feat accomplished three times only, — by Romulus, by Aulus Cornelius Cossus, and by himself.
But no sooner was Marcellus in sight than the Carthaginian fleet appeared from the opposite direction, and as the rival forces faced each other on the sea, so within Syracuse the opposite factions quarrelled, manoeuvred, intrigued, and betrayed each other. The Carthaginian officers who had been elected generals whispered that there was a plot to betray the city to the Romans; but as the people armed themselves to go and defend the walls, a man who had their respect rose up and spoke to them, and convinced them that whereas their alliance with one party or p276 the other was a matter of choice, there could be no doubt as to which friendship had proved to be of the most value in the past, since the city had been far more prosperous under Hiero than under his grandson, Hieronymus. The people were inclined to accept this view, and agreed to a peace with Rome, which was immediately broken when one of the generals, being sent with four thousand men to strengthen the garrison of Leontini, crossed the border into the Roman possessions on his own responsibility, and proceeded to plunder the country. The Romans now defended themselves and demanded satisfaction of Syracuse, but the Syracusans answered them, saying that they could not hold themselves responsible for what was done in Leontini. By way of retort Marcellus immediately took that city, which had indeed declared itself independent of Syracuse. In the capital the disturbances continued, and while the Romans endeavoured to bring the government to reason, it became more and more evident that there was indeed no government at all with which to treat. Marcellus sent ambassadors at last to the gate with his ultimatum, but they were not admitted, and received a scornful message from the walls. They might come back, they were told, when those who sent them were masters of Syracuse.
Once more Syracuse was besieged. By sea, Marcellus blockaded the port and attacked the sea wall of Achradina with strange engines, built up from the p277 decks of his war-ships, with ladders and stages by which he hoped to scale the ramparts. The low cliff along which the wall was built is nowhere less than •thirty feet in height to‑day; the wall above it could scarcely have been an enviable one at the best, yet the undertaking might have succeeded but for the superior skill of the aged Archimedes, who had outlived Hiero's kingdom, and the revolutions that had followed its fall, and whose marvellous activity and powers of invention kept the Romans at bay for many months. As their ladders moved up below the walls, and the soldiers began to climb up from the decks, vast wooden arms suddenly stretched out from the ramparts, dropped huge blocks of stone or weights of lead upon the besiegers with unerring skill, and immediately disappeared again, while not a defender was to be seen. Archimedes invented the sort of loop-hole generally known by its French name 'meurtrière,' and which, being but a narrow slit on the outer side, widens rapidly within, so that a man may shoot through it in almost any p278 direction, at his ease. It soon became evident that the city could not be taken from that side.
By land Appius Claudius had no better success. Archimedes invented a sort of automatic iron hook which became the terror of the Romans, for it could pick up the besiegers from the ground below the walls and hurl them down again by means of machinery worked from within. Moreover, the ascent to the ramparts on the north side was steep, and it was easy to throw down masses of stone and other missiles upon those who attacked. Both generals, after having hoped to take the city in a few days, were obliged to content themselves with the old-fashioned plan of starving it out by a blockade. Meanwhile, the Carthaginians seized Agrigentum, and one of the Carthaginian officers in Syracuse succeeded in crossing the Roman lines with a considerable force, in order to join the allies, but was checked by Marcellus. Nevertheless, the Carthaginian forces encamped within •eight miles of Syracuse, while a fleet of fifty-five vessels entered the great harbour.
The struggle began to assume greater dimensions. While Hannibal was still lingering in Capua, Rome sent the first legion to Panormus, to join and strengthen Marcellus. A Roman legion consisted at that time of four thousand two hundred men. The Carthaginians fancied it would be an easy matter to destroy so small a force, and marched to meet it, following p279 the coast to Messina, and Cape Pelorus; but by a rapid movement Appius Claudius was there before them, and fearing to give battle they retired into the interior, with the intention of seizing as many of the Roman cities as possible. A number of these cities were indeed inclined to sympathize with the Carthaginians. Morgantia gave the example by opening her gates to Rome's enemies. Henna, now Castrogiovanni, the highest inhabited point of Sicily, and perhaps the most inaccessible after Eryx, would have done the same; for the inhabitants pressed the Roman commander, who had but a small force, to surrender at once. He professed himself willing to hear the arguments of the assembled people, and bade them meet him in the theatre on the following day. They did so; he surrounded the place with his little garrison, and with an energy as ruthless as it was prompt, he massacred the greater part of the inhabitants on the spot. These things took place according to Livy in 214 B.C., but Holm places the massacre at Henna in the following year.
The condition of things which had characterized more than one previous siege of Syracuse was now renewed. The besiegers were unable to make the blockade effective, and the city was constantly supplied with provisions from without. Within, the defenders were divided into parties. Both in the city and in the Roman camp the tedious length of the p280 struggle produced a certain indifference and carelessness. The Romans attempted to set on foot a conspiracy among the Syracusans by which they should be admitted treacherously. It was betrayed, and the leaders were put to death. A singular accident or chance brought about the final result. The question of releasing to the Syracusans an important prisoner led to a parley which took place near the walls, not far from the little harbour of Trogilus. During the conversation, which lasted some time, one of the Romans who was not concerned in it amused himself by counting the courses of stone in the wall of the city where it was lowest, owing to some irregularity of the ground. A mental calculation of the possible height of each course led him to the conclusion that the rampart could be reached with fairly long scaling ladders at that place. It chanced that the feast of Artemis was at hand, which would last three days, during which it was a foregone conclusion that the greater part of the garrison would be either feasting or sleeping off the effects of wine. A thousand picked men were sent to the spot indicated, after midnight, and they got over the wall without difficulty, opened one of the smaller gates, and admitted a large number of Romans. At daybreak Marcellus was master of Epipolae, and standing upon the height gazed down for the first time upon the vast and beautiful city that lay at his feet; and it is told that p281 his eyes were filled with tears, though he was an old soldier, both for the great deed he had done, and for sadness over the ancient glory of the city. For he thought of the two Athenian fleets that had been sunk by Syracusans, and of the two mighty armies, led by two famous generals, who had perished there, and of the many wars waged with the Carthaginians, and of the great tyrants and kings who had ruled, and more than all of Hiero, almost the last of them, who had been so staunch a friend to the Roman people; and as he thought on all these things, he already saw in his imagination the most beautiful city of his time in flames, plundered, reduced to ashes, levelled with the ground. But he yet hoped to avert such fate of war, and he sent certain Syracusans who were in his camp to parley with the city and advise a surrender.
The fall of Syracuse is a confused story of plot and counterplot, of betrayal, and all possible treachery. The beleaguered city took courage at first, when Carthaginian troops appeared before the walls, and it seemed as if the Romans were themselves to be besieged; beaten in each attack, the allies hoped great things from a Carthaginian fleet of many hundred sail that reached Pachynus, now Capo Passero, and lay under the land for shelter during a storm, but as soon as the weather moderated the ships sailed on to Italy. The situation grew desperate; the malarious fever raged p282 in both armies, but made the more victims among the Carthaginians, who were encamped in lower land. Marcellus had already been obliged to burn the quarters of Tyche and Neapolis in order to destroy the shelter they might have given the enemy in case of an attack, and he held Epipolae; so that of the five quarters, which, as Livy says, were cities in themselves, only Achradina and Ortygia still held out. They parleyed, and their citizens plotted; new generals were elected, and one was a Spaniard, Mericus, a friend to the Romans; he admitted them to Ortygia, treacherously, by night, giving up the portion of wall entrusted to him. Then Achradina yielded; and at first the Roman soldiery could not be controlled, though they were bidden to plunder without slaughtering the people. Archimedes perished, and many others, but Marcellus buried the great engineer with honour and ceremony, and to this day imaginative persons point out a tomb which they call his, but which is not, for Cicero has described the real one most minutely, and how he found it overgrown with brambles, but knew it by the sphere and cylinder, and by the half of the inscription that remained, and of which he possessed a complete copy.
Syracuse fell in the autumn of 212 B.C., two hundred and three years after the first landing of the Athenian expedition; the whole Syracusan territory was annexed to the Roman dominions, and the capital became a p283 mere provincial city. Yet the war was not over, and though Marcellus took back to Rome as much spoil as Carthage herself could have yielded, he was not allowed a triumph, but only an "ovation," because he was obliged to leave his army behind him. In the procession, amid many objects of beauty, there was carried a painted picture of Syracuse; before the rest went the two men who had betrayed the city, and who were rewarded with the Roman citizenship and rich gifts of land and houses; and eight elephants walked in the procession to testify to the victory over the Carthaginians.
As for Agrigentum, which had served the enemy as a base of operations since the beginning of the war, it was not taken till 210 B.C., and it might have held out longer if it had not been betrayed to the Romans by a discontented general, a Numidian, whom the Carthaginian commander had removed from office. He admitted the Romans by the sea gate. The citizens who had favoured Carthage were beheaded, the rest were all sold as slaves.
Temple of Concord, Girgenti
So far as Sicily was concerned, the second Punic war was over, though eight years elapsed before the struggle closed at Zama, in Africa, with the total destruction of Hannibal's army.
A lonely spot
In order to understand what followed, — the condition of the south after its final conquest by Rome, the wars of the insurgent slaves, and the misfortunes to which p286 Sicily was subjected under the praetorship of Verres, — it is necessary to have at least a superficial idea of the machinery by which Rome governed her first province, as well as those which she subsequently acquired. The principle of this government was of the simplest description, for it consisted in placing the whole power in the hands of a trusted servant of the state, who could be held accountable for his acts only to the Roman Senate, and who possessed in his province the powers of a consul, which he could practically extend to the omnipotence of a dictator. This official, after the system assumed its permanent form, was in fact a man who had served his year as praetor in the city, and then obtained the office denominated propraetor of a province by lot. The term of this service was supposed to be a year, but it could be prolonged by the Senate, and during its duration he who obtained it was commander-in‑chief of all the troops in the province, with powers of life and death over all persons residing there, whether Roman citizens or not. He combined in his own person a number of offices which in Rome were held by separate individuals, he was the supreme judge, and was superior to all courts. The home government indeed limited his actions in certain ways. He was required to abstain rigorously from all transactions which could affect his personal interests; he was forbidden to buy slaves in his province, except to replace such as died in p287 service; he was not to engage in any financial operations on his own account; and finally, he was neither allowed to marry a woman of the province nor to take his own wife with him. It will be seen that everything was interdicted to him which could be supposed to influence his judgment in any way. As in the United States at the present time, it was intended that the constant replacing of one official by another should make impossible that corruption which is often the result of leaving the same person to exercise the same function in the same place for many years together. As for his pay and allowances, the former was considerable and, according to Cicero's reckoning, may be estimated at more than sixty thousand pounds sterling of modern money, of which the purchasing power was then at least two and a half times as great as it is now. The allowances consisted in a sum of public money for his original outfit, in a residence which the province was bound to provide for him, and in free entertainment for himself and his large retinue during all his official journeys. It is unnecessary to speak of his subordinates in detail. The second person in the province was the quaestor or treasurer, who presided over the collection of revenue and the provincial budget, and who was supposed to be co-responsible with the praetor for the manner in which the public money was expended. The praetor in office was surrounded by a court of p288 considerable state. Three distinguished citizens, termed Legates of the Roman people, were named by the Senate to accompany him, and to them he could delegate his civil authority, but not the power of life and death. He had of course a military guard, and he was allowed to choose at his pleasure a number of young men of rank who were commonly called his praetorian cohort, and who under his direction fitted themselves for a political career. Besides these he had a small army of scribes and clerks and other assistants, designated collectively his apparitors; he also had six lictors and a staff of heralds, physicians, augurs, and interpreters.
After the Punic wars a considerable number of Roman citizens resided in Sicily and occupied themselves in commerce, farming, and the lucrative business of undertaking government contracts. In the case of a bad praetor, these citizens were as much at his mercy, in fact, as the mere provincials, but in theory they were protected by their right of appealing to the Roman people, a right not always derisory. It is remarkable, however, that in times of peace Sicily was governed without any outward show of power, without the presence of any large body of soldiery, without garrisoned towns as strongholds in case of insurrection, and was practically kept in subjection merely by the fear of Rome. Of modern nations England alone seems able to inspire a similar respect in some of her possessions.
p289 The first care of the Romans, after the fall of Syracuse and before the overthrow of Carthage, was to develop in Sicily those great resources of agriculture by means of which Hiero had been able to render them such signal service, and the first praetors made constant journeys through the length and breadth of the island in order to assure themselves that the cultivation of corn and other cereals were conducted with energy and good judgment. It was from this time that Sicily began to be called the granary of Rome. Moreover, until the battle of Zama, the Romans must have felt that there was an element of insecurity, if not of instability, in their domination, against which it was necessary to guard themselves with the utmost foresight. They endeavoured also to strengthen themselves by recalling those Greeks who had fled during the long wars, and in 208 B.C., during the games of the one hundred and forty-third Olympiad, they caused an announcement to be made to the effect that if these exiles would return, their former possessions should be given back to them. It appears that the proposition was accepted.
Before the state of Sicily became finally settled, Scipio made it the base of his operations against Africa. It is somewhat hard to understand that Hannibal should have been able to remain in Italy, treating a part of the south as a conquered country, long after all Sicily was in the hands of the Romans, p290 and that Scipio should have had some difficulty in obtaining permission to make an expedition against Carthage; but the reader who desires an explanation of these facts can find it in any history. Hannibal might have found it at one time more difficult to retire from Italy than to remain where he was, and if there was still any uncertainty about the fate of the great island, it was to be decided in battles fought elsewhere. To the last, though little concerned in the fighting, Sicily was made to contribute the greatest part of the provisions necessary for the expedition. Before attempting it, Scipio collected from all the Sicilian coast merchant vessels for transports, and loaded them with cargoes of provisions. The fleet and army were provided with cooked food sufficient for a fortnight, and corn and other provisions for a month longer, and with fresh water for forty-five days. There were forty ships of war and four hundred transports collected to sail from the harbour of Lilybaeum. The city and harbour were crowded to overflowing, for persons of all conditions had flocked thither from other parts of the island to see the departure of the fleet. Among the soldiers were many who had been in the great defeat of Cannae, and who trusted that under Scipio's generalship they might redeem their reputation. Yet the utmost order was maintained throughout the preparations, and the most strict commands were issued with p291 a view to keeping the fleet together during the passage. The squadrons were to sail in a regular order by day and by night, and lights were to be carried to distinguish the classes of vessels from one another; one light for a war-ship, two for a transport, and three for the admiral's own vessel. When all was ready, at daybreak on the day of departure, silence was imposed upon the vast assembly by a herald, and Scipio, after sacrificing upon his own ship in the sight of all, addressed a solemn prayer for victory to the gods, and cast the remains of the victims into the sea. The trumpet sounded the final signal, and all the four hundred and forty vessels set sail with a fair wind.
This was in 202 B.C.; fifty-six years later the city of Carthage was finally destroyed, after a siege that lasted three years, during which the Romans built a stone wall across the harbour, and ultimately walled in the doomed city. Such resistance shows well enough that even the defeat at Zama had not destroyed the resources nor the vitality of the great Phoenician nation.
During the time which intervened between the two wars, the south was going through those slow changes which led to the wars of the revolted slaves, from the moral effect of which Sicily never altogether recovered, and which were the first beginning of a certain lawlessness among the country population which is felt at p292 the present day. I am not aware that any writer has taken this point of view, but it is a reasonable one, nevertheless. Reviewing the whole previous history of the island, it is clear that until the Roman conquest was completed, the Sicilians had never been united. Not only had the Phoenician element been in opposition and often at war with the Greek, but both had been, from time to time, at odds with the Sicelians, who, though hellenized like the Sicilian Phoenicians, preserved, like them, the prejudices and characteristics of a distinct race. Besides these there were the Mamertines, the descendants of a wild band of discharged mercenaries, who were responsible for the outbreak of the first Punic war, and who would not naturally live on good terms with the other three divisions of the population. All these were made one by force under the Roman domination, and the condition of a common subjection united all those who did not profit by it in that common hatred of authority which is the mainspring of the Mafia to‑day. It is hardly necessary to say that the great majority of those who were oppressed were slaves, and that the numbers were constantly increasing at a time when the slave trade was immensely profitable. In Delos, the central slave market of the Aegean, ten thousand slaves were bought and sold in a single day. They were collected from all the shores of the Mediterranean, and often from far up the interior of Africa. Pirate vessels of all sorts p293 engaged in the business, as being easier under most circumstances than robbery on the high sea, besides being perfectly legal.
It seems impossible to form an estimate of the number of slaves owned in Sicily, still less in Italy, at any one time. Holm, who has collected information from every quarter and has probably left no source unexplored, says that there were Carthaginians who owned as many as twenty thousand slaves. A freedman of Augustus, whose property was reduced, left over four thousand at his death. The usual authorities state that two hundred were a fair number for an ordinary citizen. There were, of course, a good many small farmers in the interior of Sicily, who owned very few, and worked in the fields themselves; but the general tendency was towards extensive culture as contrasted with intensive culture, and towards those very large holdings which have continued to exist in the south to the present day. The Nelson property in Sicily, inherited by Lord Bridport, Duke of Brontë, is now •eighty miles round, and there were doubtless even larger estates under the Romans, worked altogether by slaves, at a time when there were no free tenant farmers. It is safe, I think, to assume that, at the very least, two-thirds of the whole population were slaves at the time of the slave wars.
No one can suppose for a moment that any moral authority could control such a body of bondsmen, p294 many of whom were doubtless rough men of great strength and savage instincts, who feared nothing but pain and starvation, and respected nothing but the master's display of force. We do not know on what principle they were selected for different occupations, but it is certain that those who suffered most were ordinary farm labourers, who worked in irons under ruthless overseers, receiving a pound of barley or wheat daily, with a little oil and salt, for their fare, and being lodged in wretched quarters, often under ground. In Rome, only runaways were branded like thieves, on the principle that in trying to escape they were stealing themselves from their masters; but in Sicily all were branded alike with their owner's marks, like cattle. It is certain, however, that the slaves who herded cattle were mounted, and armed for the defence of herds and flocks, like the mounted herdsmen of the present time in the Roman Campagna; and to this day the southern herdsman invariably carries a small axe, a very dangerous weapon nearly of the size and model of an Indian tomahawk. It is a privilege peculiar to him, in a country where it is a punishable offence for a labourer to carry a pointed knife.
Holm argues acutely that the only possible way in which a slave could improve his condition was by turning highwayman. He had no other choice, since, being branded in the face, he could not possibly pass for a freeman anywhere in the known world at that time. p295 It is a singular fact that modern Sicilians of the lower classes, with whom I have talked long and familiarly, attribute the ineradicable tendency to brigandage to the oppression of the large landholders, saying in Holm's own words that when the peasant can no longer live he has no choice but to turn robber. This is of course not universally true, but it indicates a surprising duration of the same conditions under widely different institutions. Between the state of the slave in the Roman times and that of the legally oppressed small tenant of to‑day there is not much to choose, in theory; in practice, there is the difference between the lash and the law.
Now in ancient Sicily a singular position of affairs was soon reached. Slaves ran away and formed bands of brigands, but they very naturally attacked the weak and almost defenceless small farmers and left the rich and powerful unmolested. Many of the runaways were slaves of Roman knights, and the authorities let them alone, because if any one but the owner punished a slave, the owner could bring an action to recover damages for a personal injury. On the other hand, when the brigands had murdered a small farmer and plundered his land, they immediately disappeared into the mountains, and the nearest rich man found it convenient to appropriate the ownerless property; so that there may even been an understanding between the great landlords and the brigands, p296 such as has been seen in Sicily in our own times, between the bandits and small landlords, for the purpose of plundering the rich.
In Castrogiovanni to‑day
Calascibetta at sunset
At this time, when he had attained to a great reputation, the suffering slaves and of Damophilus and Megallis came to him secretly and inquired whether the gods would be gracious to them if they revolted. Eunus consulted the oracles of the future for them, and bade them revolt at once. In an incredibly short time four hundred slaves under the command of the fire-eating soothsayer set the whole city in an uproar; thousands of slaves joined them as soon as their intentions were understood, and before night the streets of Henna ran with the blood of the slave-owners, of their wives and of their children. For the rabble spared no living thing, and when Damophilus and his wife were found in one of their country houses, for the revolt had begun in their absence, a band of slaves brought them with their hands bound behind them into the city and led them to the theatre to be judged. The master died an easy death, for while he was pleading his own cause two of his own slaves sprang upon him with swords, and as the one stabbed him to the heart the other struck off his head at a blow. But the p299 lady Megallis was given over to her own female slaves, and they tortured her as she had tortured them and worse, and when there was little life in her they threw her, still breathing, from the cliff. Her daughter was not hurt. These things being done to the full satisfaction of the multitude, the word of Eunus was fulfilled, for they elected him forthwith to be their king. His first royal act was to order a general massacre of slave-owners, and with his own hand he slew his own masters; but, strange to say, he kept his word to those who, when guests at their table, had treated him kindly. The only free men who were spared in Henna were the armourers, whose skill was needed in order to supply the insurgents with weapons, and who were now themselves made slaves. Eunus took the title of Antiochus, and in three days raised a nondescript force of six thousand men, armed chiefly with slings, axes, scythes, skewers, and pointed staves hardened in the fire.
It has already been said that the Roman power was maintained in the island more by the fear of Rome's name than by the presence of any military force. The Sicilian freemen had well-nigh forgotten the use of arms in the long peace, there were few troops in the island, and these were stationed at such places as Lilybaeum, Panormus, and Messina. The Sicilians were taken by surprise, and before they could organize any means of defence the rising had assumed the p300 most dangerous proportions. A Cilician named Cleo, who had been a highway robber in his home, but was engaged in horse-breeding in Sicily, was attracted by the prospect of plunder, raised five thousand men as well disposed as himself, in the neighbourhood of Agrigentum, and proceeded to join forces with Eunus, p301 leaving a broad tract of destruction behind him as he went up the interior. The junction was effected before the praetor of the island was able to get together a force of eight thousand men. The slave army met him, twenty thousand strong, and he was defeated. Soon afterwards no less than two hundred thousand slaves were in arms.
The indifference of the great landholders to the safety of the small free farmers, whose little possessions they coveted, has been already explained. It had produced its natural result, and the free farmers soon saw that if they joined themselves to the insurgent slaves they could have ample revenge. They rose in great numbers, and the insurrection speedily became a general revolution of poverty against wealth. As often happens in such cases, this meant anarchy. The poor freemen of the city, wholly ignorant of the condition of the small farmers, whom the slaves regarded as their allies, plundered them wholesale, and the result was a sort of general and indiscriminate guerilla warfare.
It was evident that the Roman garrison of Sicily was totally unable to cope with the difficulty; moreover, slaves revolted at the same time in Greece and Macedonia and in other places; it was said that a slave conspiracy was on foot in Rome itself.
This state of things had already lasted the greater part of six years before the Romans succeeded in gaining a decided advantage. Publius Rupilius, the p302 consul in 132 B.C., who had begun life himself as a tax-gatherer in Sicily, finally quelled the first outbreak. He besieged the slaves in Tauromenium, and reduced them to such straits that they devoured their women and children, and at last began to eat each other. Their commander was a certain Comanus, a brother of Cleo, the horse-breeder. Slavelike, he abandoned his comrades and escaped from the city, but was taken and brought before the consul. Being asked questions about the state of the city, he bent down, drawing his over his head as if to shade his eyes and collect his thoughts, and then, for he was a very strong man, he set his hand to his throat and crushed his windpipe in his own grip, so that he fell dead at the consul's feet. Soon afterwards the city was betrayed to the Romans by a Syrian, and the greater part of the slaves were hurled from the cliff. Last of all Cleo and Eunus retired to the impregnable city of Henna, where the outbreak had begun. Being almost starved to despair Cleo had the courage to attack the Romans in the open, but he was beaten and the city surrendered. Untold thousands of slaves were massacred, but Eunus escaped with less than a thousand men only to be hunted down by the Romans at last. His companions killed each other; but Eunus himself, his cook, his baker, his bath servant, and his jester, were taken alive by the Romans, and it is said that Eunus was condemned to be bitten to death by vermin in a dungeon. So ended the first slave war.
p303 The wars of the slaves in Sicily were not isolated attempts to obtain freedom, to be referred to local causes only. Whether any understanding existed between the oppressed classes throughout Rome's dominions, to bring about a general revolution, it is impossible to determine. In times of insurrection and change, it often seems as if many movements were directed by one leader, when there is, in fact, no leader at all, but when the natural understanding in different parts of the world has been produced by the spreading of an idea which brings about similar results in similar conditions. The same thing happens in the domain of science. Newton, Leibnitz, and Descartes invented almost simultaneously, but in very different ways, the method which goes by the name of the Differential Calculus. Great minds reach similar conclusions in similar circumstances; the mind of a people may be considered to be a great mind made up of millions of units, almost all insignificant, if taken separately, but superlatively logical when acting as a whole. If this were not true, representative government would be nothing but the rule of ignorance or, at best, of mediocrity. But the instinct of a nation is almost as unerringly logical as the instinct of a wild animal. It is not necessary to suppose that between the years 139 B.C. and 99 B.C. there was any general and secret understanding by which the slaves of the Romans agreed to rebel at the same time, from Asia Minor to p304 Sicily, while the Gracchi attempted to overthrow the aristocracy in Rome itself.
On the other hand, those who have lived in India and the far East know how far news travels among the people in countries where there is either no telegraph at all, or where it is certainly not at the service of the agricultural population. I recollect that when Sir Louis Cavagnari was murdered in Kabul, in 1879, the news was told in the bazaar at Allahabad before the English authorities received it by the telegraph, which then covered more than half the whole distance between the two places. The conditions in the outlying parts of the Roman propositions were more like those of India than is generally realized, and it should not surprise any one to learn that news often travelled from point to point at the rate of several hundred miles a day. Such a possibility implies a much more rapid exchange of ideas than might at first be expected, and it must not be forgotten, in the case of the slaves, that they had relatives and friends in Asia, in Africa, and in Spain, from whom they had been forcibly carried off into servitude, and who must have used every means which affection could suggest for communicating with them. Merchants came and went in their ships, soldiers were ordered to different provinces, and back again, slaves themselves accompanied their Roman masters on long journeys, and took messages to the friends of their fellow-slaves, and brought back p305 news on their return. Thus there was constant communication between the oppressed classes from one end of the Roman dominions to the other, and a constant sympathy between them was maintained thereby, which could not fail to manifest itself sooner or later in more or less simultaneous action.
It seems credible, too, that something of the spirit of the Pythagorean brotherhoods may have survived, though the majority of the slaves probably never heard of the philosopher himself; and that they may have used signs and may have had peculiar customs by which they recognized each other. 'Thieves' slang' still serves thieves as a certain mission of recognition, and every one who has lived in Sicily knows that the 'Mafiusi' use special names for a number of familiar objects and articles of daily use.
It is at all events certain that the movement of the slaves was very extensive throughout the Roman world, and that they displayed tactics which, though not of the highest order, imply the existence of organization. This was notably the case during the second slave war in Sicily. Before the first was over, and when Henna was still in the hands of the insurgent, an outbreak took place in Asia Minor which may be regarded as more or less accidental, for it was not begun by the slaves themselves. Attalus, king of Pergamus, had bequeathed his kingdom to the Roman people by will. His son, considering himself deeply wronged, attempted p306 to rouse the nobles to a revolution, and failing to do so, appealed to the slaves and the poor, promising them freedom and riches. He was, of course, conquered by the Romans. The insurrection of Vettius in Campania in 104 B.C. seems to have been more closely connected with the real slave movement. Vettius was a Roman knight of some wealth, living on his estates in the south. In an evil hour he was attracted by a beautiful slave girl, and what was at first the mere caprice of an idle country gentleman grew by degrees into one of those uncontrollable passions that breed in the feverish air of the south. The girl was faithfully devoted to her slave people, and dreamt of winning their liberty. Her lover might have given his own bondsmen freedom for her sake, but she wanted more than that, and she began to persuade him that the slaves of Italy would make him their king if he would lead them, and face the Romans if he would fight with them, and that the empire of the world was almost within his grasp. In the privacy of his Campanian villa, absolute lord of all he saw, Vettius listened to the lovely Greek girl day after day, and he watched the sturdy slaves going about their work, and he saw that they would make good soldiers, who would fight to the last breath for their liberty. Secluded from the world, everything seemed possible, and all that he heard by the voice he loved seemed sure, for there was no one to answer the woman. So he got together a great quantity of p307 arms and gave them to his slaves, bidding them free their fellows throughout Italy; and they made him their king. But he appointed one of them, a Greek called Apollonius, to be his general, and this dastard betrayed him to the Romans, and he slew himself rather than fall into their hands.
About the same time the Roman senate was actually taking steps to check the slave trade and to restore to liberty a number of persons then in slavery. It was decreed unlawful to make a slave of any free man or woman belonging to an allied nation, and whenever the case should arise, the governors of the provinces were ordered to set such persons free. In a short time more than eight hundred Sicilian slaves obtained their freedom under this law, and it was natural that many thousands should claim the same advantage, whether they had a legal right to it or not. The measure had been passed too hastily, and the result was that it seemed necessary to suspend it for a time. An immense number of slaves who had presented themselves in the hope of being emancipated were ordered to return to their masters. They knew what awaited them if they obeyed, and they took sanctuary in the sacred grove of the mysterious Palici, where they were protected as in a city of refuge by the immemorial tradition of sanctity which clung to the place. There, from hot, still pools, the intermittent springs send up from time to time high jets of steam and boiling mud, p308 and then again these sink down and the froth subsides in the earthy cauldron and all is very still; for thus it pleased the twin gods to manifest their power. These pools are near the place now called Palagonia.
It is believed that from their safe retreat the slaves treated with their masters, in order that they might be taken back without suffering punishment for their attempt to gain freedom; but that, with the true Greek instinct for treachery, they agreed among themselves in a conspiracy to rise against their owners at a certain time. And so they did; for not long afterwards the slaves of two landholders in Halicyae, which is now Salemi, murdered their masters in their sleep, and rousing the slaves of neighbouring farms got together a force of two hundred and fortified themselves on a precipitous height to await events. Presumably, they expected news of other risings in the neighbourhood, but they had either anticipated the time agreed upon, or their friends lacked courage, for none stirred. The praetor appeared with a body of soldiers to storm the place, but finding it stronger than he had expected, he bought the services of a condemned criminal who had escaped justice and turned bandit, and this man was received in a friendly way by the slaves, with his troop of brigands, and he immediately betrayed them. The runaways fought to the death, and those who survived the combat that ensued threw themselves over the precipice rather than be taken alive.
p309 The general uprising took place a short time afterwards. Again a number of slaves murdered their master, eighty against one man; and in a few days two thousand were under arms. They beat a detachment of Roman infantry in the first engagement, and before long their numbers swelled to twenty thousand foot and two thousand horse, the latter being, of course, the armed and mounted herdsmen of the great slave-owners. Their leader was one Salvius, a soothsayer, and he promptly attacked the strong place, Morgantia, now Giardinelli, on the southern slope of Monte Judica, overlooking the great Catanian plain. He promised freedom to the slaves within if they would join him; but their masters promised it to them, also, and so out-tempted the tempters, for the slaves in the city rightly judged that there would be time enough to run away if their masters did not keep the promise made, as indeed happened afterwards, when the siege was raised and the besiegers retired again to the groves of the Palici.
But meanwhile another leader had arisen in the west, had gathered ten thousand men, and attacked Lilybaeum. He was the steward of a great estate, an astrologer, and a man of unquestionable courage and ready resource. Before Lilybaeum he failed, of course, and he suffered a reverse when he withdrew from the siege; but still he gathered more and more followers, and many of the poor freemen came into his camp, still at last he exchanged embassies with Salvius, who had p310 proclaimed himself king under the name of Trypho, and presently the two joined forces in a place called Triocala, the 'thrice fair.' But there King Trypho thought it wiser to throw King Athenio into prison and to rule alone, and he built a wall round the town, with a moat, and erected a little palace, and wore purple, and was accompanied by lictors. All these things happened in 104 B.C.
It was not until the following year that the Romans sent an army to attack the slave capital, and the magnitude of the force shows what was thought of the insurrection in Rome. It consisted of fourteen thousand Romans and Italians with two thousand Bithynians, Thessalians, Lucanians, and others. King Trypho now set King Athenio at liberty; what is more surprising is that Athenio does not seem to have resented his long imprisonment. He advised meeting the Romans in open battle, and charging at the head of two hundred horsemen he rode like a madman through the Roman ranks, leaving a broad river of blood where he had passed. In the desperate charge he was wounded in many places and fell at last, and when the shout went up that he was dead, the slave army fled in dismay. Yet the Romans did not pursue them, and they had time to retire upon Triocala, when its found that Athenio was still alive. By skill, by bribery, and by actual fighting he kept the Romans off, and when Trypho died in the p311 following year, Athenio became the sole king of the slaves in his stead.
He now almost got possession of Sicily and ravaged the country in all directions, besieging cities and making himself master of more than one strong place. The apparently inexplicable inactivity of one praetor after another was accounted for well enough in Rome on the simple theory that each was bribed in succession by Athenio, and each was accordingly exiled at the end of his term of office; and when at last a man was found in the Consul Manlius Aquillius, the power of the slaves had grown so great that it required two years of preparation, and hard fighting, to crush it out of existence.
The end of Athenio was as romantic as his short and brilliant career had been. In the final battle which decided his fate he exposed his life with the recklessness of a man who stakes a kingdom on every sword-thrust. On the other side Aquillius fought no less bravely for a baser motive; he had refused bribes, most probably, where his predecessor had accepted them, but only in order that by a complete victory he might have better opportunities of enriching himself, for he was the man into whose all-greedy mouth Mithridates is said at last to have poured molten gold, so that he died. Nevertheless, he fought like a brave man, and in the battle he met Athenio face to face; they fought one another hand to hand, p312 the Roman for gold, the Greek for freedom, while men looked on and held their breath. Then the Greek wounded the Roman in the breast, so that he had great scars to show long afterwards, when he was accused; but the Roman killed the Greek and got the victory.
After that he reduced the slaves' remaining strongholds one by one, and when the last thousand men surrendered on condition that their lives should be spared, Aquillius sent them all to Rome, to fight with wild beasts in the arena; but there, scorning to die the death of men condemned, they slew each other by the altars of the circus with the weapons that had been given them for the fight, and when they were all dead their leader Satyrus took his own life. Thus ended the great struggles for freedom which were fought by the slaves in Sicily during the forty years between 139 B.C. and 99 B.C., that is to say during more than a generation of men born in slavery, the sons and grandsons of those who first rose against the Roman oppression under Eunus the conjurer and soothsayer.
They were not all heroes; their revolutions generally began with treacherous murders of men asleep and grew by monstrous and wholesale plunder; their first leader died a coward's death, and more than once they all turned and fled in battle before the Romans' orderly advance. Yet they deserve the sympathy p313 of mankind the sufferings that made them rebel, and for the courage many of them showed when their end was at hand. They had been trained to bear shackles, not arms, to receive blows, not to deal them, to think as convicts think, not as freemen; the armed overseer was their daily companion and his whip was familiar with their flesh; it was no wonder that they stabbed in the dark what was too strong for them by daylight, and conspired to murder those whom they were at first too weak to fight. If anything can make assassination pardonable it is the condition of the oppressed slave; and in the south, though there were thousands of rough Africans who tilled the soil in chains, there were many, too, who belonged to quite another race and class, Greeks from Asia Minor, skilled in every art, delicately trained and intellectually by far the superiors of men whose property they had become by the evil violence of pirates and robbers, or by the unhappy chances of disastrous war; and with them were many of their women, their sisters, their wives, and their daughters, of free blood and of good lineage, reduced with themselves to the social rank of items in an inventory, and living at the best in the mean condition of favourite animals. The provocation to murder must have been indeed more than a man could bear; and in the end many died very bravely, for men who are ready to throw themselves p314 from cliffs and precipices rather than be taken alive desire freedom more than they dread death, even though it be out of fear of living, and in the scale of bravery the names of Athenio and Satyrus may stand as high as many that are better remembered.
It is related that after the end of the slave wars, the enormous number of unburied bodies and the vast quantities of blood that had moistened the ground produced a plague of grasshoppers that ravaged the whole country. Holm considers this to be a somewhat fabulous tale, but says that it gives a good idea of the condition of Sicily. Entomologists may determine its possibility or explain what insect was taken for a grasshopper; it is at least certain that agriculture was temporarily checked by some visitation of the kind, which may well have had its origin in the frightful condition of many battlefields, where no attempt had been made to bury the dead.
Holm has given his opinion of the state of the island and of the results of the slave war in a passage which I cannot refrain from translating, for no historian has more carefully weighed the evidence of history nor formed upon it opinions which seem more just.
"Nevertheless," he writes, "it may justly be said that the island had, on the whole, profited by the slave wars. Sicily was on the high road to become the mere pastureland of a few great men, as was already p315 the case with many province so Italy. That which should have been prevented when the island became a 'praedium' of the Roman people, instead of a country given over to the Roman nobles, had actually happened more and more in the course of time. The mighty slave wars arrested the land on this descending course. In these struggles it was especially the rich that suffered; the death of such numbers of slaves was a direct loss to them, but the wars cleared the air for the poor freemen. This result of the war is not a mere subjective construction; we may infer it from the orations against Verres, which, though containing numerous individual statements that are false, have nevertheless an undeniable value as portraying the condition of the island in Cicero's time. According to Cicero's description, Sicily is an island in which, on the whole, the well-to‑do middle class preponderates, but in which excessive wealth is unusual. In this connexion it is a striking fact that there is hardly any mention of valuable works of art. With few exceptions no statues were owned by private citizens, whereas many possessed a silver saltcellar or a silver drinking-vessel. This preponderance of the middle class is a result of the slave wars, which produced a thorough clearing among the slaves and therefore also in the conditions of farming. No doubt many persons remained rich, in spite of the bad times, especially Roman landholders whose estates were not p316 exclusively in Sicily; but the worst masters had been the native imitators of the Romans, and those were altogether ruined if, indeed, they still existed at all. The middle-class citizens and the poor citizens thus found a field for their activity, and Sicily could again have a more healthy existence, both on its own account and with respect to Rome, which it was to supply with corn."
a The fullest account of him is in Diodorus, but he gets a colorful portrait in Florus (II.19.4); and he is also mentioned in Ammian (XIV.11.33), Plutarch (Sulla, 36), and Strabo (Book VI, in passing).
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